Free Press sports writer Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez dissect and predict Week 4’s Detroit Lions vs. Dallas Cowboys game. Recorded Sept. 27, 2018.
Carlos Monarrez, Detroit Free Press
Sorry, fantasy football owners. Kerryon Johnson isn’t hoping for tons of carries after his breakout performance last week.
As good as Johnson looked and as good as he felt, he’s not looking for 40 carries. And he’s not looking for 30 carries. He might not even be asking for 20 carries.
“Nah, nah,” he said. “The 30, 40 (carries), that’s preposterous. Twenty, it can happen. It just comes down to how is the game going.”
Johnson, who had 30 carries three times in three seasons at Auburn, expects that if either he or LeGarrette Blount are doing particularly well, they might get the bulk of the carries in any given game.
“Whoever’s hot,” he said. “Hey, I’m telling you if LG’s running the ball great and I’m not, I’m going to tell them, ‘Hey, LG deserves the ball.’ That’s just how it goes.”
Johnson is 21 years old, but he has an uncanny maturity. He doesn’t speak or act like a rookie. Even without having gone through the grind of an entire NFL season, he knows the reality of what awaits him.
“This game is too physical for one back to get (that many carries), the way I see it, I think over 16, 17 weeks,” he said. “Maybe for two weeks you could do it. Sure, maybe; four of five (weeks).
“But after a while it will catch up. Maybe next year it will catch up. Longevity is what we look for. We’re trying to win games over the whole season and the way you do that is by having multiple guys take carries, multiple guys having great games.”
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And it might take a complete effort between Johnson, Blount and Theo Riddick against Dallas. In Week 2, the Cowboys’ defense held the New York Giants’ Saquon Barkley to 28 rushing yards, though he did have 14 catches for 80 yards.
The Lions’ offensive line easily had its best game of the season against the Patriots, but Johnson gained extra yardage, whether it was breaking an initial tackle or falling forward — a skill he learned at Auburn to avoid being hit low.
“He’s definitely got some great attributes,” right guard T.J. Lang said. “And he’s run the ball, too, as far as the vision that he has, the way he’s able to set up blocks, the patience that it takes sometimes for letting those longer blocks kind of develop. I think those are all very good tools and I think he let it all shine last week with a nice performance.”
Johnson is averaging 5.6 yards per carry, which ranks sixth in the NFL. Often, Johnson gets those yards by essentially willing himself to fight for every extra inch.
“I think it’s just one of those things you have to do as a running back,” he said, “something you have to tell yourself, something you have to get yourself to do. It’s easy to go down with that first hit. I don’t know.
“I always run 100 percent every time I’m on the field. I think that’s how I do it. I’m sure there’s something to it, but that’s just how I go about it.”
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, who has his own excellent young running back in Ezekiel Elliott, has been impressed with Johnson.
“He’s played very well and they like handing him the ball and it’s easy to see why,” Garrett said in a conference call. “He’s just a very productive back and he clearly has a really good feel for running, he has good vision, he makes people miss, and … he’s very hard to tackle. And you need more than one guy to bring him down and he’s been really productive for them to start the season.”
Johnson won’t view the game as a competition between himself and Elliott, whom he called a “great back.”
“I hope he has a good game, but not good enough,” Johnson said with a laugh. “But hey, he’s a good running back. I might pick up a thing or two from him and seeing what he does seeing his preparation. If I get to talk to him maybe he can share something that will stick with me as well.”
Some players, and especially rookies, might raise their expectations after their breakout game. Johnson said that isn’t the case with him or any of the Lions’ running backs, because the expectation has been high from the start, even if the production wasn’t.
“We all know that we’re talented guys,” Johnson said. “We all know what we can do. We all believe in this offense and this offensive line, especially.
“So we’ve always felt like it’s something that we can do and we’ve just got to out and continue to do it.”
Contact Carlos Monarrez at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.